I’ve been binge-watching House M.D. on Netflix for several weeks now. But, the following scene struck me enough to stop the furious pace and transcribe the conversation. It fits perfectly in a blog discussing cultural differences…
A 17-year-old girl has been stalking Dr. House, very overtly trying to seduce him. Close friends warn him to keep his distance–which he more or less tries to do. But the girl is insistent. Finally, she corners him in a parking garage.
Girl: “In Iceland the age of consent is 14.”
House: “I’m surprised that tourism isn’t a bigger industry up there.”
Girl: “So today I’m jailbait. But in 22 weeks anybody can do anything to me. Will I be so different in 22 weeks?”
House: “22-weeks is enough for a fetus to grow arms and legs.”
Girl: “It’s just a line. An arbitrary line drawn by a bunch of sad old men in robes.”
House: “(sarcastically) Yeah, who cares what judges think?”
Girl: “Didn’t think of you as a guy who followed rules just because they were rules.”
They banter back and forth like this, until House’s boss walks in and sends the girl home with some scolding…
Fair warning–this is precisely the type of post I was planning when I said “things could get uncomfortable” around here. Remember, our goal is to challenge the things we’ve come to ASSUME are definitely right or definitely wrong…to see if we can really explain why we think certain ways. Let’s examine our customs a little closer.
What makes 18 the magic age of maturity?
I think most of us agree it’s not really magic. “Adulthood” can’t be determined by age alone.
But that means–technically–the girl in House was correct. The Age of Consent is just a line drawn in the sand, mostly to make a judge’s decision easier. In contrast, society should place more emphasis on maturity… but who gets to decide when/whether a person is mature?
And why do we continue throwing people in jail for the same sexual acts we would tolerate a few months later?
A few centuries ago (and in some current cultures) it was common practice for middle-aged men to marry 12-or-13-year-old girls. Westerners refer to these as “child brides” and we tend to consider all child-weddings disgusting.
But I’m honestly struggling with the definition of “child.”
It’s one thing to force marriage on a girl who doesn’t want it… But can we really argue that people younger than 18 are never ABLE to make decisions, such as when to get married and/or have sex?
Our current system seems pretty arbitrary to me… Regardless of how simple we try to make it, this is a gray area few of us feel comfortable acknowledging. And it may surprise you to realize American views about “consent” are sort-of the strange ones.
The Age of Consent in most European countries is 14 or 15.
I’ve read it’s 13 in Spain.
Are they just horrible, disgusting child-molesters over there in Europe?
Or, maybe all of us are pretty confused about how to deal with sex and laws and what counts as right and wrong?
One day, you’re a criminal… The next, you’re just another frisky date–enjoying a recreational evening with a sex partner.
The word we assign to illegal, underage sex is “rape,” so I’ll take the opportunity to link Matt Walsh’s post about ending Rape Culture. He does a wonderful job listing even more double standards in the debate about “good sex” and “bad sex.”
But even agreeing with him that sex should be reserved for committed marriage, it still doesn’t answer the question of how to determine when somebody is “mature” enough to enter into that commitment. What if a parent really believes a 13-year-old girl can handle decision-making…to give consent…to get married?
And, oh heck, just to make things really awkward, let’s say her potential spouse is almost 30.
Can we say for sure this is TOTALLY WRONG?
I mean, I agree young girls shouldn’t be sold for a profit–against their will–to get their father a new camel or something. Obviously.
But could there be some cases where a girl wants to be a “child bride?” Might she come to love an older, richer man, after a few years married to him, if only he weren’t carted off to jail the second he touched her?
I’m really asking here.
It seems to me that maturity and consent and sex and marriage are far more complicated than counting off birthdays.
Do you have any thoughts?